Wednesday, August 23, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO
A gritty victory by Mia Blichfeldt capped a morale-boosting evening for Europe as continental players intensified their medal quest at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 in Glasgow.
Mere minutes after one of Europe’s long-serving standard-bearers – Marc Zwiebler of Germany – bade farewell to the international stage, 20-year-old Blichfeldt held her youthful nerves to beat the seasoned Sayaka Sato of Japan; advancing to the last 16 in a tough Women’s Singles draw.
“It’s amazing it. I am just so happy. I didn’t expect this though I went on court believing I could win this match,” said the overwhelmed winner who closed the night’s proceedings.
“I was telling myself that I had to keep running, keep fighting. I am good at that but usually my stamina goes up and down in matches but this time I was able to maintain it.”
As she outfoxed Sato with a drop shot to take the honours, the emotional Dane covered her face with her hands and absorbed the applause that greeted her 21-14 14-21 21-18 triumph inside Emirates Arena. Blichfeldt was later swept up in hugs and congratulations from her coaches and team-mates as she contemplated a place across the net tomorrow from Europe’s golden girl, Carolina Marin; the two-time defending World champion. The Spaniard blazed into the third round with a blistering 21-5 21-7 rout of Yip Pui Yin of Hong Kong.
The host continent’s medal aspirations had gathered pace earlier as players from Bulgaria, Denmark, England, France, Russia, Scotland and Spain chalked up wins to put themselves within touching distance of Friday’s quarter-finals as Ireland’s Sam and Chloe Magee had done in Mixed Doubles yesterday. Hard-fought conquests by Denmark’s Kamilla Rytter Juhl/Christinna Pedersen in Women’s Doubles and fired-up Frenchman Brice Leverdez in Men’s Singles were welcomed as much as straight-games successes by England’s Rajiv Ouseph; Danish veterans, Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen; Russian contenders, Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov; and Scotland’s own Kirsty Gilmour.
Appearing to get better with age, Juhl and Pedersen (featured image) held off a stiff Women’s Doubles challenge from Indian duo, Ashwini Ponnappa/N. Sikki Reddy. Silver medallists at the 2015 World Championships, the Danes battled through 24-22 17-21 21-15; Juhl assuming the ascendancy as the No.2 seeds snatched the last five points.
“We expected this to be tough. They have improved over the last year and we respect them. We were being too aggressive and not moving so well. We had to trust our defence,” explained Juhl.
Reddy and Ponnappa rued silly mistakes and impatience which cost them, noting the Danes’ experience and intelligence proved decisive.
Meanwhile, a day after sensationally upsetting Malaysian star Lee Chong Wei, Leverdez found his back to the wall versus Croatia’s Zvonimir Durkinjak; the latter threatening to trigger further Men’s Singles drama as he pushed his French rival all the way, even saving two match points in the decider. Leverdez, however, clinched the match 16-21 21-19 22-20 to remain in the medal hunt.
“Today was completely different. He did not give me any opportunity to play at my pace and he was constantly breaking my rhythm. I knew I had to be focused because if you get mad you might as well hand the match to him. Every match is tough at the World Championships. I play Tian Houwei tomorrow who is a very solid player. I know we will have some great rallies and I hope I can come out on top,” said Leverdez.
England’s Rajiv Ouseph also advanced in Men’s Singles, beating India’s Sameer Verma, 22-20 21-9.
“It was crucial to win the first game, saving a game point. I strayed from my game plan a bit so to come back and close that out was really pleasing,” said the European champion, looking ahead to locking horns with China’s Lin Dan in the third round.
“It doesn’t get much better than that – to play probably the greatest player ever in a World Championships. It’s very exciting. The pressure is off me. I can just enjoy myself and see what I can do.”
Marc Zwiebler was desperate to take his place in one last Men’s Singles assault for country and continent – but it was not to be. The German stalwart’s efforts were thwarted by No.6 seed, Chou Tien Chen. The Chinese Taipei athlete regrouped to prevail 20-22 21-18 21-14 in 68 minutes.
Four European pairs are through to the third round in all the doubles categories, with Pedersen and her young compatriot, Sara Thygesen, both competing in Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.